Home Christian News Are Some Evangelicals Taking John MacArthur’s Religious Liberty Comments out of Context?

Are Some Evangelicals Taking John MacArthur’s Religious Liberty Comments out of Context?

John MacArthur
Pictured: John MacArthur delivering a sermon in February 2021. Screengrab from YouTube.

Pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur came under criticism earlier this week after a clip from a sermon he gave on January 17, 2021 went viral on Twitter. In that clip, MacArthur expressed that he doesn’t support religious freedom, saying, “Religious freedom is what sends people to hell.” He went on to reiterate that “no Christian with half a brain” would support religious liberty.

While the sermon was given almost a year ago, it received fresh attention when journalist and political commentator Matthew Sheffield tweeted a short excerpt of it as part of a longer thread about the dangers of Christian nationalism

After the clip began circulating, a number of evangelical leaders, including some prominent members of the SBC, responded with concern at the fact MacArthur seemed to repudiate the longstanding SBC distinctive of religious liberty, a value which is held deeply by many evangelicals both inside and outside the denomination.

In light of that criticism, The Daily Wire’s Megan Basham wrote that in responding to the tweeted clip of MacArthur’s sermon, which was edited, many evangelicals were taking MacArthur’s words out of context and misunderstanding his intent.

Basham said that listening to the entire sermon revealed that “MacArthur was speaking about who the church should look to for protection — not earthly powers, but God.”

Grace to You executive director Phil Johnson told Basham, “MacArthur is certainly not advocating the theonomic notion that Christians today should commandeer governments in order to force Christianity on the world.” Grace to You is John MacArthur’s teaching ministry.

After Basham’s article was published, Sheffield criticized Basham, claiming that her article was “dishonest” and that Basham had not reached out to him for comment. In Sheffield’s original thread, he had included clips from multiple John MacArthur sermons with a link to the full recording of one of those sermons, none of which was mentioned in The Daily Wire article. 

“The Daily Wire omitted the context while accusing me of doing it,” Sheffield said.

In her article, Basham acknowledged that MacArthur’s comments in his January 17 sermon appeared “to take aim at the political lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC),” citing the ERLC’s work in 2016 to defend the religious liberty of a Muslim group seeking to build a Mosque. This was the exact point of concern for many who critiqued the viral video clip, and in the weeks following those comments, MacArthur appeared to double down on his original remarks.

One of the other clips that Sheffield posted was from a sermon MacArthur delivered on January 24, 2021, one week after the sermon wherein MacArthur called religious liberty “nonsense.” In the January 24 sermon, MacArthur said that advocating for religious freedom violated biblical morality.

“Now I told you last week that I do not believe as a Christian that I can support strongly freedom of religion, because that would be to violate the first commandment, right? ‘Have no other gods,’” MacArthur said

Then addressing the concern that forfeiting religious liberty for other faiths would mean forfeiting it for Christianity, MacArthur said, “You say, ‘Well, doesn’t the church need freedom of religion to move forward?’ No. In no way does any political law aid or hinder the church of Jesus Christ. We are a separate kingdom. Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world My servants would fight.’” 

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dchamberlain@outreach.com'
Dale Chamberlain (M.Div) is the Content Manager for ChurchLeaders.com. He is also a blogger and podcaster who is passionate about helping people tackle ancient truths in everyday settings. He lives in Southern California with his wife Tamara and their two sons.